On Wednesday at the White House, Donald Trump returned to his reality TV roots: Hosting – and participating in – a bare-knuckled brawl with the two top Democratic leaders in Congress.
It was a remarkable event as Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer repeatedly sought the political and rhetorical high ground, feuded over what they agreed on (and what they didn’t) and barely avoided the whole thing ending in a flurry of name-calling.
I got my hands on the transcript of the whole thing. Below, the six key moments from a meeting full of them.
1. TRUMP: “And then we have the easy one, the wall. That will be the one that will be the easiest of all. What do you think, Chuck? Maybe not?”
SCHUMER: “It’s called ‘funding the government,’ Mr. President.”
This set the tone – contentious, unyielding – for what was to come.
2. “But the wall will get built. A lot of the wall is built. It’s been very effective.”
This is something Trump has said again and again and again. Which doesn’t make it true. Because it’s not.
3. “So I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press on this.”
This is Pelosi, trying to give Trump an out – which he didn’t take. Later, after the meeting, Pelosi explained her desire to go beyond closed doors this way: “I didn’t want to, in front of those people, say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’” Ooomph.
4. TRUMP: “We won the Senate.”
SCHUMER: “When the President brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble.”
This is Schumer trying to anger Trump, to poke him in a soft spot (the results of the 2018 election) and see if the President reacts. Which, of course, he did.
5. TRUMP: “Nancy is in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now, and I understand that.”
PELOSI: “Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory.”
If there was any doubt that Pelosi was going to win the Democratic votes she needs to be speaker next month, this exchange might have resolved them.
6. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.”
HUGE political mistake by Trump here – and one triggered by the poking and prodding Pelosi and Schumer did above.
The Point: Trump wanted a show. He got a show. Then he lost control.